Reporting Jim Armstrong
BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Sen. John Kerry returned to Massachusetts to offer a personal and at times emotional thank you as he prepares to resign the office he’s held for nearly three decades to become the nation’s next secretary of state.
Kerry, who is to be sworn in as the nation’s next secretary of state on Friday, addressed a crowd of well-wishers, current and former staffer members and elected officials at Boston’s Faneuil Hall on Thursday evening.
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Kerry called his years in office an “extraordinary journey.”
“I can’t possible do justice in words to this historic hall or to the feelings that I have at this moment, in this transition, and I certainly can’t describe the place that I hold in my heart for all of you, or I might add for this incredible state that I have been privileged to represent,” Kerry said.
Kerry, who both announced his 2004 campaign for president and conceded his defeat at the same storied location, looked ahead to his role as the nation’s top diplomat during the half-hour speech.
Kerry said the best antidote to what he called the narrative of an America in decline is to make sure the nation’s democracy works effectively at home so it can serve as a model abroad.
“We’re not exceptional because we say we are or because of birthright, it’s not automatic. Being exceptional is not on automatic pilot,” Kerry said. “Being exceptional requires not that you talk about it, it requires that you do exceptional things.”
Although he is stepping out of the political realm for the world of diplomacy, Kerry made a final public plea for more amity in Congress.
He pointed to a trip he and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain made to Vietnam years after they had both served there during the Vietnam War. McCain had spent more than five years as a prisoner of war and during the trip the two returned to the cell where McCain was held and tortured.
“There we were and we found common ground in that cell and I’m telling you if John McCain and I could find common ground in that cell every United States senator can find common ground on the floor of the United States Senate,” Kerry said.
The longtime Democratic lawmaker began his tour of the state with a visit to the YouthBuild USA office in Springfield before stopping in Worcester to thank residents during an event at Holy Cross college.
In Springfield, Kerry called his decision to leave the Senate a “bittersweet moment” and said his best moments did happen in Washington but across the state when he met with residents and local organizations.
He pointed to the legislation he wrote in 1992 that created the YouthBuild program, which now has locations in 273 urban areas across the country. YouthBuild helps low-income residents, ages 16 to 24, earn high school diplomas or GEDs by learning job skills building affordable housing.
“You have given me the privilege of a lifetime to represent this extraordinary commonwealth of Massachusetts as a United States senator,” Kerry said. “I can’t think of any better work, any better job, better opportunity, and I just wanted to come out here and say thank you.”
Kerry also praised Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to name his former chief of staff, William “Mo” Cowan, to fill Kerry’s seat until a new senator is selected in a special election June 25.
“The governor has picked a very capable, thoughtful, intelligent person,” Kerry said. “He’s going to do a great job.”
He also said he wasn’t worried about the lack of experience in the Senate for Massachusetts now that U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in office less than a month, is the state’s senior senator.
Kerry was first elected in 1984.
At Fanueil Hall, he recalled the decades he worked alongside longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, saying “there isn’t a person who doesn’t know that if my being junior senator could bring Ted Kennedy back tonight, I would be there.”
Kerry ended on a personal note.
“I stand before you tonight with a very, very full heart,” Kerry said. “I am a lucky man. I’m blessed.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.